Michaelchall2_dexter_240 Two-thirds of the way through the first season finale of Showtime’s Dexter, the murder we’ve come to know as the Ice Truck Killer addresses Michael C. Hall’s Dexter and bellows, "You can’t be a killer and a hero… IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY."

It’s a line that perfectly encapsulates the first 12 episodes of what has proven to be one of Showtime’s most artistically successful shows, a provocative, sexy and harrowing (and freakishly funny) examination of whether, indeed, you can be both a killer and a hero.

When I reviewed the first three episodes earlier this fall, I saluted the work done by the creative team to expand on Jeff Lindsay’s source novel after seeing the season through to its completion, I have no doubt that the source material has been dramatically improved.

It isn’t just that the conflicted Dexter Morgan, blood splatter expert and killer, has been embodied by Michael C. Hall. Well deserving of his recent Golden Globe nomination, Hall has made Dexter’s warped worldview and his menacing physicality seem believable and his dead-pan delivery has been indispensable to the show’s humor. But beyond Dexter, the series had taken Lindsay’s flat procedural supporting characters and given them stories, dimensions from Julie Benz’s emotionally wounded Rita to Erik King’s adversarial Doakes to David Zayas’ love-lorn Angel. The first season finale works because the secondary players are nearly as important to the conclusion as Dexter is.

Another important embellishment from the book is the expansion of Dexter’s main antagonist. An interesting decision was made to reveal Christian Camargo’s Rudy as the Ice Truck Killer five episodes from the end, forcing viewers into further identification with Dexter as the lesser of two evils. Camargo, an actor I recognized from several things but never really noticed before, has matched Hall flawlessly.

Much of the final few episodes have taken place in Dexter’s mind, as the Ice Truck killer’s clues force him deeper and deeper into a repressed past that may explain his remorseless and psychotic origins. By the time the finale arrives, Dexter is in full-on hallucination mode, slipping in an out of his earliest possible memories. He’s trying to save his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), but will that violate his darker nature? Fortunately, the entire Miami police force is also on Rudy’s trail, producing the interesting dual tension of hoping that one killer gets caught while the other is left to accumulate more blood-drop slides. You aren’t supposed to feel entirely clean after watching Dexter.

Titled "Born Free" and directed with Emmy-worthy flair by Michael Cuesta, the finale may be temporally loopy, but it still moves to a satisfying end that should keep viewers eager for the second season, already picked up by Showtime. With Dexter and Weeds, both among the year’s finest shows, things are looking pretty good for the perennial premium cable also-ran.

After you’ve seen the episode, let us know what you thought…

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg